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Retired Southwest jetliner arrives in Port Alberni for firefighting

Coulson Aviation plans to convert the Boeing 737-700 jetliner into the world’s largest single-drop firefighting tanker
Coulson Aviation in Port Alberni welcomes the newest addition to its aerial firefighting fleet, a Boeing 737-700, with a water cannon salute. COULSON AVIATION

Coulson Aviation took ­possession this week of its first ­Boeing ­737-700 jetliner, a retired ­passenger plane it plans to convert into the world’s largest single-drop firefighting tanker.

The Port Alberni-based company says it will build a 5,000-gallon tank system into the aircraft, making it the biggest in the industry.

The jetliner was acquired from Southwest Airlines, which is expected to supply Coulson with up to 10 retired aircraft over the next several years.

Coulson’s firefighting fleet already includes six of Southwest’s retired Boeing 737-300 jets, which it has outfitted with 4,000-gallon tanks. The outfitted planes are dubbed Fireliners.

The 23-year-old 737-700 jet, which had been in service with Southwest Airlines until only a few weeks ago, was flown to Port Alberni by Southwest pilots from the Dallas-Fort Worth airport. The plane arrived to a water-cannon salute.

With 60,000 hours of flight time, the jet is considered to have used about 60% of its life­span as a commercial passenger plane. However, Britt Coulson, president and chief operating officer of Coulson Aviation, said it has much more life left as a firefighting aircraft.

No prices were disclosed for the jet purchases from Southwest airlines.

Coulson rarely fights fires in British Columbia anymore. Its major contracts for firefighting are in countries such as the United States, Chile and ­Argentina and Australia.

Coulson said it will take about 18 months to two years to get the 737-700 jetliner fitted with new tanks and ready for service.

He said the new Fireliner will “raise the bar” for large airtankers worldwide with its increased payload, reduced fuel requirement, increased range and higher speed.

The Fireliner platform has been the “go-to” large airtanker for foreign governments to purchase, Coulson said, because it can transport passengers when not deployed on active ­firefighting missions.

It also has up to double the volume of competing large ­airtankers and can arrive at the fire earlier, increasing the success of initial attack missions and keeping fires smaller, he said.

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